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What Is an Online College?

What Is An Online College

Online Colleges are higher learning programs and courses taken outside the traditional classroom through internet-based technology. Because of the flexibility and accessibility they can provide, they alleviate some unique challenges and barriers you may encounter.

Also known as distance learning, online colleges are becoming a common way to earn a degree. An increasing number of them available in the U.S. reflects the trends and needs of prospective students: our survey finds that 69% of prospective students are looking for either a fully online and hybrid degree program.

With this understanding, let's look into how online colleges work.

What Is An Online College
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How Do Online Colleges Work

How Do Online Colleges Work?

How Do Online Colleges Work

Online colleges run more or less as a traditional class would except through a virtual platform. You can have the same coursework, type of instruction, deadlines, and amount of required hours or credits.

Depending on the degree program, you might have to gain work experience as well – such as earning clinical hours for registered nursing degree programs, or classroom hours as a secondary teacher.

Along with a variety of online teaching platforms, such as Blackboard and Canvas, there are several methods for instruction and assessment that colleges may choose. Professors can also customize their virtual classrooms.

So, now that we know what online colleges are and how they work, let’s explore some reasons why online colleges may be right for you.

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Why Choose Online Colleges?

Why Choose Online Colleges

Your college experience needs can be as unique and dynamic as one person’s interests are from the next. Online colleges can also be the remedy for personal challenges that may be preventing you from earning your degree on campus, such as:

  • Working full-time or part-time jobs
  • Having family responsibilities or other personal commitments or requirements
  • Living in rural locations (sometimes known as college deserts)
  • Having a disability
  • Not thriving in a classroom setting
Why Choose Online Colleges
Because distance learning can make education opportunities more available, with several options of learning styles, they can be a great way to beat adversity and earn your degree. As our survey illustrates, the most unique and appealing attributes of online learning are accessibility and flexibility.
Do you prefer to travel for completing a program?
Accessibility
75%Yes
25%No
Accessibility

As the results indicate, 75% of prospective and current students in the survey want the opportunity to earn their degree without the complications of travel or relocation.

Online colleges eliminate the commute time to attend classes. They can also make education programs available to you no matter where you live. (Some programs can even be available at in-state tuition rates.)

Is flexibility of schedule important to you?
Flexibility
69%Yes
31%No
Flexibility

Each program is different in the way it's structured. But, online colleges can offer options for attending a class and completing coursework when you are most available. Instead of having to choose between different priorities—whether that's work or caring for you/another—you can have the ability to dedicate attention to each as needed.

Be sure to research whether your program is fully online, hybrid or on-campus. While some programs might be described as online, they still can require you to visit the campus for specific courses (e.g., nursing) or obtain work experience in the field (e.g., elementary education).

Types of Online Colleges

There are a variety of ways to take your distance learning program or courses. It’s important to ask yourself a few questions before enrolling:

  • Do you want to take 100% online classes?
  • Or, do you want to supplement your on-campus program with online classes?

Understanding which type of online college you want can help you prepare for what is going to be required of you. Online college courses fall under one of two categories: synchronous, “live,”or asynchronous, “self-paced.”

Depending on the program or course you’re taking and the amount of flexibility you need, you may be able to choose between either of the options if the school makes it available.

Visit our Online Education Glossary for important terms to know while look for an online college. Continue below to review the ways in which you can pursue your online education.

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Hybrid
These courses combine elements from both synchronous and asynchronous types of online classrooms. You can have the flexibility to work on assignments at your own pace to meet certain deadlines, but may also have to participate in group chats or attend lectures at designated times.

Who Is a Good Match for Online Colleges?

With more colleges offering online programs, nontraditional students as well as recent high school graduates have an abundance of opportunities to earn the degrees they desire. You can even explore demographic-related financial aid options as well as colleges that directly serve specific communities. Colleges are addressing the concerns and welcoming people of all different backgrounds, including: gender, ethnicity, religion, age, income-level and veteran status, just to name a few. 

Our survey indicates the following demographics seeking an online education:

39%
First-time students
19%
Students looking to advance their degree
31%
Degree program finishers
10%
Returning students

As you can see, the student population is not reflected by any certain type of individual. We hope you are encouraged to know that there are many recourses and options available, no matter your background.

Our OC Insights section’s guides and articles are tailored to different types of students, such as:

How to Choose the Right Online College for You

There are many ways to narrow down your search for an online college. Along with all the information we’ve provided you in previous sections, we have guides and articles that focus on specific programs, degree levels, states and financial aid opportunities. Read on to learn more.

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Knowing how and where to start your search for an online college or online college program can be a challenge. Use our search tool to select desired requirements – such as subject, degree program level, fees and financial aid – which can help narrow down your options.
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